Once upon a time there was a man who kept the whole of his life in separate compartments. It was his daily task to inspect the compartments, bringing order to elements which had become disarrayed, inspecting, mending, arranging and rearranging as required.
It had been a gradual realization to this man that his life was compartmentalized. Now, recognizing the extent of the compartmentalization of his life, he started each day with the recitation of a personal litany that had also developed gradually, the which he used to recall each of the steps in progression that led to the present situation of compartmentalization. He traced the beginnings to a time in his life when a current interest became so important to him that he could allow nothing else to take greater precedence. Very quickly, more and more of his mental energy was required to shut out other interests until, being the creative and methodical person that he was and not willing to totally abandon all interests in favor of the pursuit of just one, he began constructing the compartments. They were thoughtfully and carefully made and, although he had fully intended to use them only on a temporary basis, they were sturdy enough to withstand the test of time. And so they did.
In the beginning there were only three compartments of varying sizes–one each for Past, Present, and Future Interests. Not much later he tried to fit certain Long-Term Interests into each of these compartments only to find that there was not enough room or that they were too dissimilar to be kept in combination. Because incompatibilities create conflicts and because he was a man who preferred order and harmony, he felt compelled to separate dissimilar interests. So, he began constructing more and more compartments until the compartments were of greater consequence to him than the interests contained in them, and they required his constant vigilance.
Now, this man was not a complainer, nor was he inclined to scheme a way out of his responsibilities. He had always been one to accept and deal with things as they happened and he was perfectly willing to accept the consequences of his compartmentalized life.
Each morning, as he was not one to waste time, the man’s day began early. With great efficiency he strapped on his tool belt. He wore it like the habit of a holy order. It was part of his uniform and an outward reminder that his life was compartmentalized and that he embraced his indebtedness to the construction and maintenance of every compartment. Only a few compartments were locked and so only a few keys hung from his belt. Even so, he was constantly aware of the clumsiness and weight of the gadgets and instruments that he carried; and, thus encumbered, it was an effort to remain balanced.
There was quite an array of equipment arranged on his belt in specific places by category for ease of finding. These he had collected for Repairing and Mending; Measuring, Calculating, and Weighing; Moving, Arranging, and Taking Inventory, to name a few. There were also compartment-specific items that had exclusively designated use and application only for certain compartments. All these tools were a necessary element of the compartmentalization of his life and so they required a level of maintenance of their own. Logs and schedules for this activity were kept in a separate compartment. Now, as he relied upon them so often and needed quick access to them, Imagination, Reason, Emotion, and Hope were kept in compartments which he ingeniously figured out how to hang from his belt! Desire was not a tool, neither was Responsibility; but these were the right and left gloves of his uniform. He wore a plaid shirt woven of Creativity and Curiosity, pants made of Caution and Courage, and his feet were shod with Swiftness and Determination. Only his head was bare, making him vulnerable. But, he did create a visor with blinders on either side, which he wore when at his tasks to shield his eyes from the strain of concentration, and to help him focus solely on the task before him.
At home, as elsewhere, he moved strictly by self-imposed protocol from compartment to compartment. Sometimes, he noticed that he had inadvertently carried something with him that actually belonged shut up elsewhere. Even though he was a man who accepted things as they came, he found himself alarmed and distracted from his routine by such accidents. The dis-ease of impending doom nagged at him, creating great anxiety until the next day when on his daily rounds he was able to return the item to its proper place. So, against the happenstance of such a repeated mistake, he developed a strategic tool to convert, through a sophisticated program of computer analyses, all the elements of such a mistake. The output was a series of timed reminders that enabled him to take all the necessary steps, in their proper order, to return the item to its rightful place within an acceptable period of time and with minimal exertion.
Without variation, his daily routine called for the newest compartments to be checked first, followed by the largest ones. There had come a point in time when he realized just how complex his system of compartments was becoming. That was when he developed C.L.E.A.R., the “Compartment Life Expectancy Assessment Register,” which enabled him to chart the moving of current interests in and out of higher priority compartments. This only made sense, anyway, he reasoned, since interests that declined in importance ranking should by rights be stored in smaller, less conspicuous compartments, making room for newer and more important interests. These smaller compartments he did not inspect on a daily basis, but with lesser and lesser frequency until one of three things happened. (1) The compartment could be designated for “Compartment Custodial Care”–whereby interior inspection was no longer required (only superficial, exterior maintenance). This was a cumbersome and tedious process of paperwork and forms that he preferred not to spend a lot of time on, contributing to the bloated inventory of compartments at any point in time. (2) If a new (even unrelated) interest surfaced in his life that required a compartment of its own, he could enact “Compartment Automatic Retirement Plan”–whereby all contents would be removed from a compartment in Custodial Care and discarded in favor of the new interest. This process involved strict recycling policies that were kept in newer, eco-friendly compartments. It was a drastic measure and one he liked to believe he used more often than he did. (3) The third option had only been taken on rare occasions but, nonetheless he did have a system in place named “Compartment Revitalization And Prioritization” –whereby, due to renewed interest, more frequent visits were reinstated and the compartment moved back up to a higher priority section on his inspection list.
Inside each compartment was an “Inventory Checklist;” “Interest Assessment and Priority Evaluation;” the log where he recorded dates and times of inspection; and, the “Social Acceptance Measurement” and an actuary chart. One thing he never used was a map because regardless of how complicated and complex the network of compartments grew to be, he always knew where everything was. It was instinctive.
Almost as gradually as he had realized the compartments’ domination of his life, one day a new thought began to germinate and that was this: that what had begun as a plan to bring order and clarity to his life had developed some rather negative side effects. He was sure the compartments had created a different sort of chaos as well as a sort of insidious complacency, for keeping things in their proper compartments took up far too much of his time. He was more and more preoccupied with the movement of interests, people, possessions, ideas, emotions, memories, and plans in and out of compartments. He was occasionally overwhelmed with the knowledge that at any moment some compartments were empty, some of them needed to be combined, others needed to be sub-divided and re-sub-divided. He was having second thoughts about classifying Questions and Doubts–both of which required far more space than any other compartments. Those Ideas he had subdivided into Good and Bad had seemingly taken on a life of their own, requiring constant reevaluation and resorting. Originally for his eyes only, he regretted sharing, in a moment of compromise, the contents of certain compartments, and he was having difficulty developing Standards & Practices to guide future decisions on when or if and how, how often, and how much of the compartments to share. He tried to remember what it was like before he began to compartmentalize. He prided himself on the judicious decision-making critical to the successful compartmentalization of his life. But, more and more he heard people complaining openly about his Judgementalism. Sometimes he heard himself dissecting and summing up the parts of conversations and wondered if perhaps they were right, or if he should just store away those thoughts for later inspection.
He was distracted and becoming less careful with his routines. Daydreams and Nightmares had been squeezed into the smallest of his compartments with Dreams. These were fragile and prone to wander, and he had so few of them that, for the sake of convenience, he kept them on the table by his bed. At the end of a particularly confusing day, he placed his dream of no more compartments back into its compartment. He viewed the walls that constructed this compartment – all of them – as just walls, barriers, obstructions, the tall hedges of a maze that kept him constantly on the run, searching for the way out. The extent of his isolation was so disorienting to him that he wasn’t sure he knew what was beyond the walls of that Dream Compartment, anymore. What happened that night he could not explain, but he recalled later that as he lay down to sleep, from somewhere, he recalled a line from a bedtime story he heard once when he was a child: “You can find happiness in your Dreams.” He sat up beside his pillow and opened the Dream Compartment beside his bed. And then, seized by a sudden impulse, he took out all the dreams by handfuls and scattered them across his bedroom like a sower broadcasting seeds across an open field.
They flew in all directions across the room like caged birds set free. He watched them beautifully shimmer for just a moment, catching the moonlight from his window as they floated through the air. And just as quickly, they dropped to the floor in the still silence of the night, with a sound that reminded him of that barely audible soft falling snow sound he used to love to hear, back when he had time for such things. He sat motionless, witnessing the scene before him, watching his dreams vanish before his eyes.
“O, now what have I done!” he moaned out loud as he sat on the edge of his bed with his head in his hands. “The night is young and all of my dreams are gone,” he sighed. He had not the courage to face the night without the comfort of a single dream. Like a drowning man grasping for a rope, he rolled out of bed, knelt upon the floor, and stretched out his hands in the darkness until he touched the opened Dream Compartment on the floor. Gently, he felt inside to find out if even one dream remained. Far in the back, his fingers sensed something. Carefully, he coaxed the last remaining dream out of the Compartment. He had not seen it for so long that he barely recognized it, but even in the darkness of night, he knew it, and he fully appreciated the importance of this one last dream. O, that this dream should have survived all of his foolishness! He did not pause, did not consult the protocols, did not take the time to check his options before he brought the dream to his lips and swallowed it. He felt the warmth of it filling him up and renewed strength coursing through his veins. The man laughed. Had it been this easy all along, and yet he had not known it? He stood up unshackled, unchained, unencumbered, unleashed, unrestrained, uninhibited, uncontained, uncontrolled, unashamed, unapologetic, unquestioning, understanding. Not a hammer had been lifted, not a hinge undone, yet down came the walls of all the compartments of his life and, that very night, his dream came true.